#metoo movement in EgyptEgypt has consistently struggled with sexual assault, an issue that goes hand-in-hand with poverty. A United Nations study showed that 99% of all Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual assault. Additionally, another study in 2017 declared Cairo the most dangerous city in the world for women. Learn about the history and reasoning behind the #MeToo movement in Egypt.

Egypt’s History of Sexual Violence

The #MeToo movement in Egypt may be contemporary, but Egypt’s sexual assault problem has been around for many years. In an attempt to replace the president of Egypt with a more democratic figure, people took to the streets in early 2011 in what is known as the Arab Spring. Although the protests succeeded in orchestrating the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, any dreams of a democratic ruler failed to come true, and women faced worsening sexual violence.

Under Mubarak’s rule, sexual assault was covered up by the president’s own police force. After these aggressive authorities were removed, Egypt’s sexual assault issue was thrust into the world spotlight when stories emerged of several women being sexually assaulted in a public square in Cairo. The perpetrators faced no consequences, and the women were blamed for their own assaults. This paved the way for future sexual assaults to go unpunished in Egypt.

The Allegation that Reignited the Movement

Despite protests and performative legislative changes, the sexual assault of lower-class citizens in Egypt continues to occur at alarming rates. Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a 22-year-old former student at the American International School and the American University in Cairo, was accused of sexual assault by over 100 women in June 2020. The schools Zaki attended are regarded as some of Egypt’s most elite universities for wealthy families, which is what makes his case so unique. For the first time, an upper-class male was held responsible for sexual violence.

Zaki has been officially accused of blackmail and rape, with one of his victims being just 14 years old. Combined with several other stories of sexual assault that emerged in the last decade, this story contributed to the resurgence of the #MeToo movement in Egypt. The country’s campaign is supported by an Instagram account called Assault Police, where Egyptian women have shared their stories of assault. Zaki’s story clearly demonstrates that, regardless of age or social standing, sexual harassment is a rampant issue throughout Egypt. Although this concept applies to countries worldwide, the Egyptian government’s choice to ignore this problem has earned Cairo its reputation as an unsafe space.

Change Is on the Horizon

The Egyptian government has prioritized its presently unstable economy over many of its other problems, including sexual violence. Although Egyptian women have protested this issue in the past, their protests have failed to gain traction due to the dangers they face in public places. Furthermore, the default response to a woman’s sexual assault story in Egypt is to place the blame on her for dressing or behaving a certain way. Both of these considerations have essentially barred women from coming forward to share their stories, until now.

Women have embraced the opportunity to finally share their stories, and the prosecution of wealthy men like Zaki is a powerful step in the right direction. In response to Egypt’s #MeToo movement and the Assault Police Instagram page, current president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has enacted a law that increases protections for sexual assault victims. Although the country still has much work to do, the #MeToo movement in Egypt has made one thing clear: the country’s women refuse to be silenced any longer.

– Natalie Tarbox

Photo: Flickr

Egypt ended its flirtation with democracy and completed its turn back towards a military-dominated political order this week, as the country’s armed forces chief resigned and announced that he would stand for president. The move by Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s defense minister and military chief, came in the same week that a court sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the recently outlawed Islamist movement, to death in a case that underscored the governments authoritarian nature since the coup that ousted Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically president.

Sisi, who spearheaded the coup that toppled Morsi, announced in his resignation as armed forces chief in a nationally televised speech Wednesday, saying that he, “will always be proud of wearing the uniform of defending my country.” Moments later, Sisi announced his presidential bid, characterizing his decision to run for Egypt’s highest offices as, “answering the demand of a wide range of Egyptians who have called on me to run for president, to attain this honor.”

After leaving his post as armed forces commander-in-chief on Wednesday, Sisi tendered his resignation as defense minister during a Thursday cabinet meeting in which General Sedki Sobhi was named as Sisi’s replacement for both the military chief and defense minister posts.

Sisi’s widely expected announcement that he would stand for president in an election he is expected to easily win seemed to complete Egypt’s turn back toward the military-led political order that characterized the six decades of Egyptian governance after King Farouk was toppled in a 1952 coup spearheaded by Mohammad Naguib and Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Nasser would go on to serve as president from 1956 until his death in 1970, only to be replaced by another military man, Anwar el-Sadat. After Sadat was assassinated by radical Islamists in October 1981, Hosni Mubarak, the former commander of the air force, became president, continuing the post-1952 trend of presidents drawn from the armed forces. Mubarak went on to serve as president for close to three decades, ruling until massive demonstrations forced him from power in February 2011.

After 16 months of military rule following Mubarak’s removal, Morsi, an Islamist backed by the Brotherhood, was elected president, becoming Egypt’s first freely elected leader and the only president in the country’s history who did not serve in the military. Morsi, who was a member of the Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group, at the time of his election, was also modern Egypt’s first Islamist president.

In the lead up to the July 3 popularly-backed coup that ousted Morsi, severe fuel shortages caused long lines at gas stations across Egypt, enraging motorists, as a sharp decline in the Egyptian Pound led to skyrocketing domestic prices. Meanwhile, Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves, which the country’s central bank uses to prop up the pound, had fallen to about $15 billion, down from $36 billion when Mubarak was toppled.

Massive demonstrations in late June and early July led the military to step in and seize power. Since the July coup, the military has unleashed a brutal crackdown targeting the Brotherhood, which has now been outlawed and designated as a terrorist organization. The Islamist groups’ assets have been seized, while its leaders, including Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, have been imprisoned.

Egypt’s post-Morsi authoritarian state began to take shape in late November, when the country’s military-backed government promulgated a new law imposing draconian restrictions on demonstrations, including giving the Interior Ministry, an institution known for its aversion to civil liberties, blanket authority to ban, postpone or move protests. And then in January, Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that grants the military wide-ranging powers, including the authority to appoint the defense minister for the next eight years. The new charter, drafted by a constituent assembly whose composition the military helped to shape, mandates that the defense minister must be an active member of the armed forces and creates a legal framework for trying civilians in military courts.

With the announcement that the country’s now former military chief will run for president in an election that he is likely to easily win, Egypt’s turn towards authoritarianism seems to have transformed into a headfirst leap.

-Eric Erdahl

Photo: Ed Week
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